Sarah was a good wife, cook and housekeeper. Her house
was always neat and clean because she worked from dawn to dusk, cooking,
mending and performing an endless round of household chores.
But John, her husband, was a sponger and a lazy good-for-nothing
parasite. While she slaved at home, he slaked his thirst in a
cozy waterfront alehouse. While Sarah toiled in the garden under
a sweltering sun, John would be "batting the breeze" with his
cronies under a cool, well-shaded canopy.
Eventually, Sarah packed a bag -- and for better or worse --
left her home and husband. John, of course, had a conniption
fit when he discovered that she had left, aware that he had lost
an accommodating wife, an excellent homemaker and until then,
a convenient meal-ticket! To bolster his badly bruised ego, he
decided to teach her a bitter lesson, to subject her to public
scorn. With this in mind, he hired a town crier to walk the streets
with bell in hand and proclaim:
"I, John Pryor of Marblehead do forbid all persons to harbor
or trust my wife Sarah Pryor, she having left my bed and board!"
In those days, many an overworked, put-upon housewife was loath
to face an attack of this type. But not Sarah Pryor; the following
morning, the townspeople heard the stentorian voice of another
bell-ringer announce to one and all:
"I, Sarah Pryor, do hereby declare that I have not left
John Pryor's bed and board, because he never owned a bed and
because I, Sarah Pryor, am the person who always furnished him
Sarah Pryor's decision to challenge what then was a male-dominated
society ushered in a new era. And every year thereafter, the
younger generation cast aside or ignored the customs and conventions
of the past.
To the distress of parents, their children--especially their
daughters--began to get out of hand. Some had begun to dress
in unseemly clothes, silks and satins festooned with frills and
flounces, adorned with one or two colorful baubles. And some
of the more brazen had taken to coiling their tresses or even
When the distraught parents' pleas and protestations fell on
their daughters' deaf ears, the minister was summoned. And if
he failed to persuade the girls to abandon such tawdry styles,
to realize that modesty, humility and innocence outweighed vanity,
pride and ostentation, the local magistrate was called.
He first admonished the culprits for their lack of modesty. Next,
he would warn them that if they continued to cater to their whims,
they would be forced to answer to the court! Of course, those
charming daughters of Eve continued to dress to the nines. They
not only brushed aside criticism, but dreamed up a host of even
newer eye-catching fashions. As a result, the Essex County Quarterly
Court records cite one shameless hussy after another for appearing
in public all gussied-up!
One girl had been seen wearing a silk hood, a scarf and "French
fall shoes," another had been seen wearing a silver bodkin,
and still another had been caught garbing herself in "broad
bone lace." All of the foregoing citations were considered
reprehensible acts, and in most cases, contrary to colonial law.
But while such young and flighty women were more often lectured
to and released, others were fined for their misdemeanors.
Today, no court in the United States would dare fine any school-
girl, debutante, mother or grandmother for sporting a brooch
or a bauble--provided that they wore something to pin it on!
Marblehead has had its fair share of eccentrics and oddballs,
some the town's residents have suffered or tolerated, while others
were taken to their hearts.
Among the latter were two middle-aged, unwed sisters. Said to
be "well-fixed" financially, they lived a cloistered
life in a snug little house off a secluded back street. Each
week, when they went shopping, they would stride along, side
by side, heads erect, preoccupied and completely oblivious to
the world around them.
Before long, this singular pair was known to this town. The elder
sister, who invariably walked with her arms clutching her sides,
was nicknamed "Miss Half-Past-Six," and her sister
was dubbed "Miss Quarter-To-Seven" because she habitually
carried her left arm extended across her body!